TO:                  Mayor and Town Council


FROM:            Council Naming Committee: Mayor pro tem Wiggins, Chair; Council Member Greene; Council Member Strom; Council Member Ward


SUBJECT:       Public Forum on a Proposal to Rename Airport Road in Honor of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.


DATE:             April 19, 2004



Tonight’s Public Forum provides an opportunity for the Town Council to receive comments and questions regarding a proposal to rename Airport Road in honor of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.  Further discussion of this matter, including a summary of comments and questions from tonight’s forum, is scheduled for the Council’s May 24, 2004 regular meeting.




In January 2004, Mayor pro tem Wiggins brought forward a request from the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) that the Town Council consider renaming Airport Road in honor of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.  The Council referred the matter to the Council Naming Committee for consideration.


The Naming Committee met to discuss this matter on January 29, 2004, and again on February 20, 2004.  Between those meetings, Committee members met informally with representatives of the local NAACP chapter to discuss the renaming request and to confirm their understanding of it.


During January and February, Town staff contacted the North Carolina Department of Transportation (NCDOT) to confirm whether or not it would be possible to rename Airport Road (also designated as State Highway NC 86) and, if so, to determine the process and procedures that would be necessary to implement a name change.




The Committee investigated several issues associated with the proposed renaming of Airport Road, as summarized below:


ALTERNATIVE ROADS CONSIDERED – The Committee considered several roads that might be renamed in honor of Dr. King.  The roads considered were:


·        Airport Road (NC 86) from its southern terminus (at North Street) to the northern Town limits;


·        A segment of US 15-501/NC 54 Bypass to be determined;


·        NC 54/Raleigh Road/South Road from the eastern Town limits to South Columbia Street;


·        Weaver Dairy Road Extension from Airport Road (NC 86) to Homestead Road;


·        The full length of Estes Drive between Greensboro Street (in Carrboro) to and including Estes Drive Extension east of Fordham Boulevard.


The Committee discussed the alternatives and selected Airport Road as the preferred candidate.  The Committee’s second choice for renaming is the NC 54/Raleigh Road/South Road corridor.


The Committee determined that the entire length of the US 15-501/NC 54 Bypass would not be a viable candidate because it already bears an honorary name, Fordham Boulevard, in honor of UNC Chancellor Christopher Fordham.


COLLABORATION WITH CARRBORO – The Town of Carrboro has expressed interest in joining with Chapel Hill to rename a road that travels through both communities in honor of Dr. King.  The Committee does not think that a joint endeavor would be practical in this case, since neither the first-choice (Airport Road) nor the second-choice (NC 54/Raleigh Road/South Road) road selections identified by the Committee travel through Carrboro.


RENAMING PROCEDURE – The NCDOT provided the Committee with a copy of its standard procedures and requirements for renaming State roadways as honorariums.  A copy of the State procedures and requirements is attached, including a memorandum that was sent from Town staff to the Committee highlighting key points of the State renaming process.


Based on review of these documents, the Committee believes that Airport Road would be a viable candidate for renaming, subject to the approval of the North Carolina Board of Transportation.


OTHER ISSUES - The Committee also considered the following collateral impacts of renaming a street in an urban area such as Chapel Hill:


·        All properties that are assigned street addresses on the renamed street would need to change their address on applicable documents and records to correspond with the new street name. 


There are approximately 800 street addresses currently assigned on Airport Road, including: approximately 700 addresses assigned to rental properties (such as apartments); approximately 100 addresses assigned to business, commercial, church, Town, and University properties; and approximately 25 addresses assigned to single-family residences.


There are approximately 90 street addresses currently assigned on the NC 54/Raliegh Road/South Road corridor, the large majority of which are assigned to business/commercial/University properties.


Once a “change of address card” is filed with the Post Office, mail will be delivered with either the old address or the new address for a period of up to one year. 


·        There is an existing Martin Luther King, Jr. Street in Chapel Hill that would need to be renamed if Dr. King’s name is used on some other street.  Twelve street addresses are currently assigned to the existing Martin Luther King, Jr. Street.  This is a local street, and would not require State approval for renaming.


·        The estimated cost for changing street name signs on Airport Road is $16,700.  The estimated cost for changing street name signs on the NC 54/Raleigh Road/South Road corridor ranges from $8,000 to $17,000 depending on whether or not the existing small street name signs at intersections were replaced with large format signs.


Additional information about naming and renaming initiatives throughout the country in honor of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. are attached for reference.




The Council Naming Committee believes that Airport Road is a viable and reasonable candidate for renaming in honor of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. as proposed by the local chapter of the NAACP.


The Committee recommends that the Council receive citizens’ comments and questions about the proposed renaming of Airport Road at tonight’s Public Forum, and refer them to the Committee for consideration.  A follow-up report from the Committee is scheduled for presentation to the Council at its regular meeting on May 24, 2004.




1.                  State procedures and requirements for renaming State roads (p. 4).

2.                  Excerpt from “Along Martin Luther King: Travels on Black America’s Main Street (p. 10).

3.                 Series of articles from the Seattle Times entitled “Roadways Across America”  regarding Martin Luther King Jr. streets in several American cities (p. 16).

4.                  Correspondence from citizens (p. 35).